doctor who resolution review

The 11th season of Doctor Who ended with something of a whimper, so it was up to the New Year’s Day special to wrap up Jodie Whittaker‘s first year as the 13th Doctor with a bang. Thankfully, “Resolution” more than delivers.

The newly established New Year’s Day special already had a high bar to leap after the BBC sci-fi series moved from its beloved Christmas Day slot that it occupied for 13 years. It was a weird Christmas tradition, but a comforting one — Doctor Who‘s unique brand of heartwarming camp was perfectly suited to watching the Doctor go on big-budget, killer snowmen-fighting adventures after opening presents. So how does watching an explosive, bombastic Doctor Who New Year’s Day special hold up while you’re hungover? Pretty good, thanks to delightfully zippy writing and the return of an old enemy with a sinister new makeover. Penned by Chris Chibnall, “Resolution” reneges on the showrunner’s assurance that there will be no classic Doctor Who monsters, and it’s all the better for it.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The Daleks are the Doctor’s foremost enemies, the race of mutant aliens bent on universe-wide genocide that have been around since the show’s very first season. They also look totally silly: they’re homicidal tin cans that have a plunger for an arm, a product of Doctor Who‘s early low-budget days. But the Daleks struck a nerve in pop culture since their 1963 introduction and have returned time and again to the series, becoming the most frequently recurring Big Bad of Doctor Who. But their fearsomeness has been diluted in recent years as they’ve grown more into devices to sell toys rather than the terrifying Nazi metaphor they were created as. Truthfully, the Daleks haven’t felt dangerous since the 2005 episode “Dalek.”

Chibnall changes that with “Resolution,” which brings back the Dalek as a lone, mythic foe — and more terrifying than ever. Introduced as an unseen enemy that can only be defeated by a 9th century army, the Dalek is so formidable that it must be split into three parts and scattered across the world, never to be found until a team of modern-day archeologists stumble across one part on New Year’s Day. The pair who discover it, Mitch (Nikesh Patel) and Lin (Charlotte Ritchie), are a sweet and charming duo who are probably my favorite supporting characters all season — displaying as much chemistry with Team TARDIS as they do with each other. Ritchie in particular gives an impressive performance as the poor unsuspecting victim of the Dalek, who possesses her upon coming back to life.

Make a New Dalek, But Keep the Old

It’s in episodes like “Dalek” and now “Resolution” that I understand why the Daleks have struck such a nerve in pop culture: As an army, the Daleks have always seemed a bit silly, but as a lone, desperate, invulnerable threat, the Dalek is the most daunting monster in Doctor Who‘s rogues gallery. “Resolution” ups the ante by adding a body horror twist, the Dalek latching onto Lin’s body as its tentacles envelope her and its guttural robotic voice echoes around as she struggles in fear. The first peek we had of it, spread across the wall like gross, slimy roots, was pure Eldritch horror as well. The slow build to the final introduction of the Dalek in its traditional metal armor — now with a grimy steampunk twist — is a brilliant play on expectations, making the reveal of an innocent-looking plunger somehow seem terrifying.

The Doctor is quick to catch onto the Dalek’s schemes, honing in on the scene of the crime soon after the Dalek revives itself. But while Whittaker’s Doctor had often approached her adventures with a degree of whimsy, we see her shaken in a rare moment of subdued rage — “I always think I’m rid of them and never am,” she utters upon realizing that the creature they’re chasing is a Dalek. While the eerie bodysnatcher subplot helped reinvigorate the tired Dalek story, Whittaker’s performance with the Dalek is what sells “Resolution” as the finale that Doctor Who season 11 deserves. I’ve griped about the middling season that has only served to restrain Whittaker’s sublime turn as the 13th Doctor, but “Resolution” finally offers Whittaker the solid writing to back her up. Her swaggering monologue to the Dalek after it has crafted its new armor — like the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, out of Sheffield steel — is so satisfying to watch, especially when she punctuates it with her best “I am the Doctor” moment yet.

Going Supernova

“Resolutions” also offers a, well, resolution to the ongoing character arcs that have been developed all season. Upon Team TARDIS’ return to Sheffield, Ryan comes face-to-face with his estranged father Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega), returning to make amends with his bitter son. Neither Ryan or Graham are particularly happy to see him, especially after he had missed Grace’s funeral, but the Doctor is the one to bluntly scold him for letting Ryan down. The show has been strongest in its character moments like this — introducing Aaron as a complicated figure who has good intentions and loves his son, but selfishly avoids difficult situations.

It’s an emotional, character-driven subplot that actually ends up playing a pivotal part to the climax, which finds Team TARDIS chasing the Dalek to GCHQ after wiping out an entire army. Just before the Dalek sends a signal summoning fleets of Dalek armies, Aaron comes up with a plan to use his microwave oven product to destroy the Dalek (yes, really), resulting in the Doctor’s hilarious response of, “You’re almost making up for your parental deficit!” The Doctor enacts the hilariously bad plan, which consists of Team TARDIS bum-rushing the Dalek and holding it down while attaching the cobbled-together device. But when the Dalek holds Aaron hostage, the Doctor is forced to fly them to a supernova, where Aaron is almost dragged to his death — only saved by Ryan tearfully forgiving him. With that action-packed, emotionally driven finale, “Resolution” successfully kicks off the New Year while leaving us wanting more of this Doctor Who — confident, fun, and finally on solid footing after a shaky 11th season. Unfortunately, the series won’t return until 2020, but at least it left us with a New Year’s special full of visual and emotional fireworks.

Tidbits in Time and Space

  • The joke blaming Brexit for shutting down UNIT, the longtime government agency that the Doctor has worked with for decades, is hilariously wry, even if the bit lasts for a little too long. But let’s bring back Polly!
  • The Doctor’s cute line of the episode: “Is that your intruder alert or mine?
  • The Dalek’s laugh is one of the creepiest monster laughs I’ve heard on TV.
  • There were so many sitcom-y interludes in this series: the cheesiest being the family affected by the Wi-Fi shutting down after the Dalek’s destructing of GCHQ, and forced to have a conversation.
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